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The heart wants what the heart wants…

Fresh out of college with a psychology degree, Molly Stillman was searching for the meaning of life by taking a summer volunteer gig building houses. The meaning in Molly’s life became apparent when her path crossed Lincoln Abbott’s. With his brand-new Yale MBA in hand, Linc was Mississippi bound, ready to spend the summer rebuilding houses after a devastating hurricane. He had a plan, lots of them, actually. But after meeting Molly, he realized plans have a way of showing you who’s boss.

One look from the intelligent beauty working by his side on the house project, and Linc knew everything had changed. His long-time goal of studying at Oxford before joining his family’s finance business was abandoned in favor of helping to grow Molly’s charming family business in Vermont. Too bad Linc’s father had other ideas about how his future should unfold, and when forced to make a choice, Linc chose Molly. He chose Vermont and the Green Mountain Country Store, and he never looked back.

Until a phone call from the past forces him to confront the choices he made decades ago and the consequences of saying goodbye, including telling his ten grown children why they’ve never met his family—a subject that’s always been off-limits until now. When Linc decides to go to Philadelphia to clear his conscience and see his father one last time, his wife and children insist on going along. Let them see what came of this choice you made, his eldest son, Hunter, says.

As they wander down memory lane, Linc and Molly revisit the unforgettable summer that changed both their lives and look back on forty years of happily ever after.

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Let It Be

(Butler, Vermont Series, Book 6)

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” —John Lennon

Chapter 1

Fridays were Lincoln Abbott’s favorite day of the workweek, and not just because they were the only thing standing between him and two full days off to spend with his wife, Molly. He also enjoyed Fridays because his executive team—all of them his grown children—were usually in good spirits as they prepared for the weekend. Another thing to love about Fridays was that most weeks, Linc enjoyed lunch at the diner with Molly and her dad, Elmer, both of whom were at the top of Linc’s list of favorite people.

He loved everything about his life in Butler, Vermont, from the breathtaking scenery to the entertaining town moose named Fred to the Green Mountain Country Store, Elmer’s parents had founded the store, and Lincoln had poured his heart and soul into for forty years, the last fifteen of them as CEO. Mostly, though, he loved the family he and Molly had raised. Their ten children had grown into adults he loved, admired and was proud to consider friends and colleagues. Molly, their marriage and those ten kids were his greatest accomplishments.

As he crossed Elm Street on his way back to the office after lunch with Molly and Elmer, he took note of the work being done to rebuild the Admiral Butler Inn that had burned earlier in the year, nearly taking his son Lucas with it. Linc couldn’t bear to think about that night or how close they’d come to losing their beloved Luc, who, like his identical twin brother, Landon, was a lieutenant in the Butler Volunteer Fire Department.

Linc shook off those morose thoughts and gave thanks once again for Luc’s good health and his rapid recovery from injuries that might’ve killed a lesser man. Lucas had also saved the life of Amanda, who was now blissfully engaged to Landon.

His seven sons were in great shape from their many outdoor pursuits, including rock-climbing, skiing, snowboarding, mountain search and rescue and numerous other things that he and Molly were probably better off not knowing about. That conditioning had saved Lucas’s life in the fire.

Linc’s nephew Noah Coleman’s construction company was rebuilding the inn, and Linc couldn’t wait to see how it came together under Noah’s leadership. Out of all the kids—ten Abbotts and eight Colemans—Noah was the enigma, the one who kept his distance from the family, especially since the dreadful breakup with his ex-wife, the details of which had been kept in lockdown. Linc kept hoping they’d get back the old Noah again. He’d once been a happy, outgoing kind of guy, but there’d been no sign of that Noah in years.

Linc had left Molly and her dad enjoying a cup of coffee and a slice of the apple pie their daughter-in-law Megan had made to return to the office for the weekly Friday afternoon staff meeting. They didn’t really need the meeting, but Linc enjoyed getting everyone in the same room once a week to share ideas and energy. Some of their best initiatives had resulted from the meetings they tried to have weekly unless they had something better to do, such as a long weekend at their place in Burlington or their son Wade’s wedding in Boston this past June.

Nothing came before family time, not even the business his father-in-law had entrusted him with after he retired. It was a huge honor for Linc to continue the legacy that Elmer’s parents began and Elmer had continued, and to serve as the steward until one of his kids took the helm. He suspected it would probably be Hunter, but Linc was determined to let them figure that out for themselves. Any of the five who worked in the office with him would be qualified to take over when the time came, but that day was still a long way in the future. Linc was having way too much fun to think about retiring. As long as he and Molly could get away by themselves once in a while, they were happy with the status quo.

He loved the work of running an old-time country store and the challenge of maintaining the nostalgic feel of the place while applying modern business strategies to spark growth. Such as the catalog they’d launched in September that had doubled their monthly gross revenue in the three months it’d been in circulation, giving them their busiest holiday season in the company’s history.

The catalog and the warehouse that fulfilled the orders had lit a spark of excitement within the company that was palpable, as had the intimate product line Linc had championed—to the dismay of his children—which had brought in scores of new customers. He often chafed against his children’s more conservative approach to growing the business, but wasn’t afraid to pull rank when it suited his purposes. That’s exactly what he’d done with the intimate line, and he had no regrets there. Not to mention the product line had brought Amanda to town, and she and her daughter, Stella, would officially join their family when Amanda married Landon.

He went up the flight of stairs from the store to the executive offices where his nephew Grayson’s fiancée, Emma, greeted him. Her sister, Lucy, was married to Linc’s son Colton.

“How was lunch?” Emma asked.

“Excellent as always. Anything going on?”

“I put through a few calls to your voicemail, but nothing that sounded urgent.”

“Thank you. I meant to ask earlier how Simone is doing with her new braces.” Emma’s daughter had gotten the braces the week before.

“She hates them, but we keep telling her she’ll get used to them. She’s not convinced yet.”

“My kids hated them at first, too, but you’re right. After a while, they forget about them.”

“I hope so. She’s pretty miserable.”

“Poor baby.”

The ringing phone took Emma back to work as Linc headed into his office to check his voicemail. At a quick glance, it seemed the others were still at lunch, but they’d be back in time for the meeting at one thirty. He listened to a message from Lucas’s fiancée, Dani, who managed the warehouse for them.

“Hey, I wanted to let you know I’m not going to make the meeting today. We’re totally slammed here, and I need to stick around. I’ll check in with you at Sunday dinner to find out what I missed. The good news is we’re slammed. The bad news is we’re slammed. Haha, see you.”

Linc smiled at the message. She was right—it was great news they were slammed, but he’d have to talk to her about what they could do to support her and the warehouse team in the last days before Christmas. Dani was such a terrific addition to their team—and their family. She and Luc were great together, and seeing his son take on the role of father figure to Dani’s one-year-old daughter, Savannah, had been nothing short of amazing.

His voicemail beeped with the next message.

“Lincoln. It’s Charlotte. Your sister.”

Shocked to the marrow of his bones by the sound of a voice he hadn’t heard in forty years, he sat up straighter.

“I’m sorry to call you out of the blue, but we wanted you to know that Father is gravely ill and doesn’t have much time left. He’s asked to see you. He knows he has no right to ask, but he’s asking anyway. If you would, please call me.” With shaking hands, Linc grabbed a pen to write down the number she recited. “I’ll understand if I don’t hear from you, but I hope I do.”

For a long time after the voicemail disconnected, Lincoln sat perfectly still, staring at a spot on the wall from a leak in the roof the previous winter. They’d gotten the roof fixed, but the wall still bore the watermark. And why was he thinking about a water stain on the wall when his sister had just dropped earthshattering news into his lap?

His father was dying and wanted to see him.

Lincoln had no idea what to do with this information. He hadn’t heard a word from any member of his family since that dreadful day more than forty years ago when he’d been forced to make an unfathomable choice. He’d made that choice and had never regretted it, not for one second. But the heartache of what he’d lost had stayed with him, like a long-festering wound that refused to fully heal, despite a life of unimaginable joy.

For a second, he feared he might be sick as the tuna sandwich he’d eaten for lunch churned in his belly. He took a sip from a water bottle on his desk. Then he pressed the voicemail button on the phone and listened again to Charlotte’s message.

The original Charlotte, his baby sister… Four of his children bore the names of his siblings, but none of them knew that. They never spoke of his family. By some sort of unwritten rule, the topic was left untouched by a group that dissected everything. It’d been a while since he or Molly had talked about that fateful summer in which so many things had been decided. With one phone call from his sister, he was right back there, being forced by his father to choose between the woman he loved more than anything and his original family.

He’d chosen Molly and had carried the pain of losing his mother and siblings with him every day since.

His mother had died years ago. He’d been told after the fact in a letter from his father’s attorney that had come to the office weeks later. A few times over the years, he’d searched for his siblings online and on social media, but he’d found nothing about them, only news of the business itself. He had no idea who they’d married, if he had nieces or nephews, if they still worked for the family business or lived in the Philadelphia area, where they’d been raised.

He knew nothing about the people he’d been closest to as a child.

A quick glance at the clock told him he had fifteen minutes until the kids would be back for the staff meeting. If he was going to return Charlotte’s call, he needed to do it now or be forced to wait until after the meeting.

Somehow he knew if he didn’t make that call right now, he never would. He picked up the phone and dialed the number, holding his breath while he waited for her to pick up.

“Linc? Is that you?”

His phone number, bearing the distinctive 802 area code, must have shown up on her screen. “It’s me.”

“It’s so good to hear your voice.”

“You, too.”

“I’m sorry to do this to you, but Father… He asked me to call you. He doesn’t have much time left, Linc.”

“What’s wrong with him?”

“He’s suffered from emphysema for years, and it’s gotten progressively worse. The doctor told him this week to get his affairs in order. He said the only thing he needed to do was speak to you.”

“I’m not sure what to say to that. It’s been forty years…”

“I told him it was too much to ask of you, but he asked me to call anyway. No one would fault you if you chose not to come.”

“I… I don’t know.” The thought of revisiting that pain was almost more than he could bear. “I need to think about it.”

“I understand, but I recommend you think quickly. The doctor said he has a week, maybe two. He’s in hospice care at home.”

“I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Linc… You have my number now. Even if you decide not to see Father, please call me when you have time to catch up. I… I’ve missed you so much.”

Her softly spoken words brought tears to his eyes. His father’s mandate had left a lot of carnage in its wake, and not just for him. “Likewise. Thanks for calling. I’ll be in touch.”

“I’ll look forward to hearing from you.”

Linc put down the phone and thought about what she’d said. His father wanted to see him. He didn’t have much time left. His sister had missed him. Taken one at a time, any of these things would’ve been a bombshell. Taken together… It was more than he could process after decades of complete silence from his family. He’d made his choice, and he’d been forced to live with it, cut off from the people he’d loved first.

Molly. He needed her.

Just as he had that thought, his son Hunter came into the office. Tall and handsome, with dark hair and eyes, Hunter reminded Linc so much of the older brother his son had been named for, the brother he’d lost far too young.

“What’s wrong?” Hunter asked, always perceptive.

“Nothing’s wrong, but something came up, and I have to leave a little early. Would you run the meeting and check in later?”

“Of course. No problem.”

Lincoln grabbed his coat and keys and headed for the door.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m sure, son.” He squeezed Hunter’s arm on the way by and stopped to speak to Emma. “I’ll be home this afternoon if you need me.”

Emma’s brows knitted with concern. “Oh. Okay. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, thank you. I’ll see you Monday. Have a nice weekend.”

“You, too.”

He rushed down the stairs, eager to get out of there before he had to explain his abrupt—and unusual—early departure to the rest of his children. They knew him far too well and would see right through him the way Hunter and Emma had.

Linc got into his Range Rover and headed for home. He wasn’t sure if Molly had other plans after lunch with her dad, but she’d end up at home eventually, and he’d be there, waiting for her to help him figure out what to do.

She always knew what to do, and he’d never needed her wisdom more than he did right then.

 

“Love is the flower you’ve got to let grow.” —John Lennon

Chapter 2

When Lincoln got home, he realized he’d left George, one of his two yellow Labs, in town with his daughter Charley. She’d taken George with her on a lunchtime run and hadn’t returned before Linc left. He’d have to retrieve George later, after he’d talked to Molly. He let out their other Lab, Ringo, and poured himself a glass of ice water.

He really wanted bourbon, but he needed to keep his head clear. Standing at the kitchen window, he gazed out at the snow-covered landscape that had become so familiar to him since he arrived in Vermont. Back then, he couldn’t imagine hip-deep snow for months on end. Now it was as much a part of his life as his lovely wife, the barn they called home and the ten children they’d raised there.

Vermont ran through his blood, with her mountain peaks, aspens, evergreens, cool crisp air and pure, raw beauty. He’d been fortunate to travel widely, but he’d never been anywhere that had called to him the way this place had from the first time Molly brought him home with her.

He loved the way the house smelled of pine and spice this time of year, when Molly had their barn decorated for the holidays.

Ringo’s excited barking a short time later alerted Lincoln to Molly’s arrival.

She came in a minute later, chatting with the dog, who darted into the kitchen and then back into the mudroom, torn between wanting to be with both of them.

They’d wanted dogs, kids, a comfortable home and a life in Butler, Vermont. They’d gotten all those things—in spades.

Smiling, Molly walked into the kitchen, her cheeks red from the cold, her eyes sparkling the way they always did when she looked at him. “This is a nice surprise. Thought you had the staff meeting this afternoon.”

“I did. I mean… I do. Hunter is handling it for me.”

She took a closer look at him, insightful as always where he was concerned. “What’s wrong, love?”

“Sit with me?”

“Did something happen? The kids…”

“Everyone is fine.” He took her hand and led her to the kitchen table, the scene of so many of their most important conversations.

“You’re scaring me,” she said when they were seated next to each other.

“I’m sorry. My sister, Charlotte, called me.”

Shock registered in her expression. “You… your… Oh. What did she want?”

“To tell me my father is dying and wants to see me.”

She stared at him for a long moment, her eyes no longer sparkling. Now they were flat with the start of anger. “All this time… He wants to see you now? After he excommunicated you from his life, your mother’s life, your siblings’ lives?”

“Yes.”

“I hope you told her to tell him where to go.”

“Not exactly.”

“Lincoln… You can’t actually be thinking about going there. After everything he put you through…”

“I know.”

“Are you?” she asked hesitantly. “Thinking about going there?’

“I don’t know what to do. One part of me says screw him. Where’s he been the last forty years? The other part…” He let out a deep sigh. “The other part is the dutiful son who still feels he needs to come when his father calls, even after all this time.”

Molly stood and came over to him. “Make room.”

He scooted his chair back so she could make herself at home on his lap.

She wrapped her arms around him and kissed his cheek. “How dare he do this to you!”

Lincoln had known she’d be angry, and with good reason. His father had been awful to both of them once upon a time, forcing him to make a dreadful choice. He leaned his forehead against hers, drawing on her for strength the way he had for so long now. She and their family were the best things to ever happen to him. He had no doubt he was leading the life he was meant to, and nothing, not even a blast from the past, could change his mind about that.

“What’ll you do?” Molly asked after a long silence.

“I suppose I’ll have to go, or spend the rest of my life wondering if I did the right thing by not going.”

Molly’s deep sigh said it all. “I hate this for you. He has no right to tie you up in knots this way after decades of silence, especially four days before Christmas.”

“No, he doesn’t have the right, but that’s never stopped him before.”

“I’ll never understand how you were raised by someone like that, but still turned out to be the kindest, most loving husband, father, uncle and grandfather.”

“It’s all thanks to my mother and a progression of kindhearted nannies who taught me compassion and empathy. I certainly didn’t get any of that from him.”

“I want to say something,” she said, “and it may not be the right thing, but it’s how I really feel.”

“You know you can say whatever you want to me, love, and I always want to hear it. Why do you think I came straight home to you after Charlotte called?”

“What I want to say is this—you don’t owe him anything, Linc. Not one damned thing. We’re taught to honor and respect our parents, but he’s done nothing to earn your respect. He’s ignored you for decades. He let your mother die without ever seeing or speaking to you again. He’s never met your children or once inquired about your health or welfare in all that time. You owe him nothing, and you have every right not to reopen that old wound because he’s suddenly grown a conscience in the final hours of his life.”

Lincoln couldn’t help but smile at her vehemence.

“What’re you smiling about?”

“You. You’re magnificent, and I love you more than anything.”

“What’s that got to do with your father?”

“It’s got everything to do with him. Every time I see your gorgeous face or listen to your words of wisdom, you remind me of why I chose you, why I still choose you every day and twice on Tuesday.”

“The fact that you ever had to choose is the problem. That never should’ve happened.” She ran her fingers through his hair, straightening it while gazing into his eyes with care and concern and love. Always so much love. “What do you want to do? You know I’ll support you no matter what, even if it means trekking to Philly four days before Christmas.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to go, love. I know how busy you are before the holidays.”

“There’s no way in hell you’re going there alone, so let’s not bother to have that fight.”

Lincoln gathered her in close to him, weighing the pros and cons of the decision the way he would a business challenge. Take the emotion out of it, he always told the kids. Sometimes that was easier said than done.

The mudroom door opened, bringing a whoosh of cold air into the kitchen, which preceded George galloping in ahead of Hunter. “You forgot someone at the office.”

“I realized that after I got home.”

Hunter saw his mother sitting on his father’s lap and paused inside the kitchen door. “Didn’t mean to interrupt anything.”

“You didn’t,” Linc said. “Come in, son. Your mother and I were just talking.”

Hunter joined them at the table, taking the seat Molly had originally occupied. “Is everything okay? It’s not like you to miss the Friday staff meeting.”

As he gave George a scratch behind the ears, Lincoln hesitated. He wanted to tell his son what’d happened, but that would require him to share things he’d never discussed with any of his children.

“Tell him,” Molly said softly. “It’s time.”

“You’re kinda freaking me out,” Hunter said, looking between them. “Someone had better tell me something.”

Since there was no easy way to share this particular story, Lincoln went with the highlights—or rather, lowlights, such as they were. “You know I’m not in touch with my family.”

Hunter nodded. “You’ve never said why, and we figured out a long time ago not to ask.”

“I had a falling-out with my father.”

“That’s not exactly true,” Molly said, glancing at Hunter. “Your grandfather gave your father a terrible ultimatum, and now he’s on his deathbed and apparently having regrets. He asked your aunt Charlotte, who your father also hasn’t heard from in forty years, to call and ask him to come.”

“I have an aunt Charlotte?”

“And uncles Hunter, Will and Max. Hunter died at twenty after an accident.”

Hunter absorbed the information in his usual contemplative way. “I’m sorry you lost him.”

“It was the worst thing to ever happen to me, until my father forced me to choose between your mother and my family.”

Hunter stared at him, incredulous. “He forced you to choose…”

“Yes, and when I chose your mother, I never heard from any of them again, except a single letter from my father’s attorney letting me know my mother passed away several years ago.”

“God, Dad. I’m so sorry. That’s unbelievable.”

“It was a long time ago,” Linc said with a sigh.

“And it was just as unbelievable then as it is now,” Molly added.

“What are you going to do?” Hunter asked.

“I haven’t decided yet.”

“We need a family meeting,” Hunter said. “Isn’t that how we always make the big decisions?”

“Yes, but…” Lincoln hesitated at the idea of sharing the ugly story with the whole family.

“Let us help you the way you’ve always helped us, Dad.”

“I think it’s a good idea,” Molly said. “And Hunter’s right. It’s what we do when there’re decisions to be made.”

Though he hesitated to burden his children with his concerns, Lincoln had to acknowledge they were right about how the family addressed big decisions, and now that the proverbial cat was out of the bag, there was no putting it back in. “Okay.”

“I’ll call the others,” Hunter said, rising to use the phone.

“It’s the right thing to tell them,” Molly said when they were alone.

“Are you sure about that?” Linc asked with a small smile.

“They’re the wisest people I know, other than you and my father. They’ll know what to do.”

“You should have Elmer come, too. It’s not a family meeting without him.”

“Hunter,” Molly said. “Call Gramps, too.”

“Will do.”

Molly stood. “I suppose I ought to see about some food for this meeting.”

“Hey, Mol?”

“Yes?”

“Thanks, you know, for having my back.”

“Always have, always will. No matter what you decide to do, you have us. We won’t let anyone, even your own father, hurt you.” She kissed his forehead and then went to see about food for the troops. There was never a time when their children couldn’t eat, but the thought of food with this decision weighing on him turned Linc’s stomach.

His thoughts were all over the place, but he kept coming back to the moment that changed his life in ways he couldn’t have imagined, the first time he’d laid eyes on young Molly Stillman, fresh off a thirty-hour bus ride from Vermont to Mississippi to spend a summer building homes for those who’d lost theirs in a devastating hurricane the year before.

She’d been a recent graduate of Middlebury College, wanting to see more of the country and volunteer to help others before she went to work for the family business in Vermont. Back then, she’d had long honey-colored hair, freckles on her nose and an inquisitive nature that had immediately intrigued him. He saw young Molly in all three of their daughters—in Hannah’s curiosity, in Ella’s kindness, in Charley’s determination.

Fresh out of grad school at Yale, Linc was volunteering on the housing project before spending a post-graduate year at Oxford. As a lifelong Anglophile, he’d dreamed of living in the UK and retracing the steps of The Beatles, his favorite band of all time. The two months in Mississippi were supposed to have been a brief interlude before he got on with the rest of his life.

Little had he known then that those two months would change everything.

 

The first thing Linc had noticed when he arrived in Gulfport, Mississippi (population 39,600 at the time), was the heat. He’d been told it would be hot, but nothing could’ve properly prepared him for the thick blanket of humidity that made it almost hurt to breathe. Thankfully, Gulfport benefited from the sea breezes off the Gulf of Mexico, which provided a bit of relief.

He’d been met at the bus depot by Joseph Tolman, a tall, muscular Black man with a big smile and a crushing handshake. “Thanks so much for coming.” He gestured for Linc to follow him to his pickup truck. “We need all the help we can get to finish this project in time to receive the second half of our federal funding.”

In the wake of Hurricane Frederic the year before, Tolman and several local contractors had committed to building a hundred and fifty affordable housing units by September 1 and had advertised nationally for volunteers willing to spend a summer learning on the job. Linc had been immediately intrigued by the opportunity to acquire practical skills while also helping people before he left for Oxford.

Since they’d lost his older brother Hunter three years earlier, nothing had been the same. Linc had grappled with his own grief after the staggering loss and had found it harder to be home, where pervasive sadness hung over their family. Spending the summer in Philadelphia hadn’t been an option he’d been willing to entertain. When he’d heard about the project in Mississippi, he’d jumped at the chance to have something else to do.

“My friend who told me about your project said it wouldn’t matter that I don’t have any construction experience,” Linc said.

When Joseph started the engine, AC/DC’s new song, “You Shook Me All Night Long,” came blasting out of the radio. Smiling, Joseph turned down the volume. “Your friend was right. We’ll teach you what you need to know and rough up those soft hands in the process.”

Linc laughed at the teasing jab that was delivered in the sweetest Southern accent. “I’ve been in school my entire life, or at least that’s how it seems.”

“Now it’s time for some life skills.”

“That’s the idea.”

“We work six days a week from sunup to sundown, but Sundays are all yours. We have almost seven miles of white sand beaches here in Gulfport.”

“I read about that and can’t wait to check it out. I can see myself spending a lot of Sundays there.” Some of his favorite summers as a kid had been spent at the Jersey Shore with his grandparents, who’d had a summer home there.

“We’ve set up a campsite for the volunteers. It’s nothing fancy, but it has everything you need.”

“I’m sure it’s great.”

“When we realized we were in danger of missing our deadline to keep our federal funding, one of my partners suggested we put out a call for volunteers to the colleges. We really appreciate y’all coming.”

“I appreciate you keeping me from having to spend the summer at home under my father’s thumb.”

“It’s a pretty strong thumb, is it?”

“You have no idea. He’s waiting for me to finish school and come into the family business.”

“Which is?”

“Commercial real estate.”

“Sounds exciting.”

Linc laughed. “Not so much, but it pays the bills.” The company was enormously successful, thanks to his father’s vision and hard work. However, as the date got closer for Linc to join the company’s executive team, he felt more and more trapped in a life of someone else’s design.

“And that’s what you want to do?” Joseph asked.

“I’m not exactly excited about it, if that’s what you’re asking, but that’s the plan.” All their plans had changed when Hunter died, and his father turned his sights on Linc as the new heir apparent. What Linc wanted didn’t seem to matter, but since he didn’t have a viable alternative, he’d gone along with his father’s plan for him, albeit reluctantly.

“Huh,” Joseph said.

“It’s okay to say what you really think.”

“Then I’ll just say life is short. You should do what makes you happy, not what’s expected of you.”

“I couldn’t agree more, but I’ve yet to find anything that makes more sense to me than the family business.”

“Maybe you haven’t been looking in the right places.”

“I suspect that might be the case, which is why I jumped at the chance to spend the summer somewhere I’ve never been, working on something meaningful.”

“The work you’ll do here will mean so much to so many. We have a hundred and fifty families who were displaced by the storm lined up to get the first group of new houses. Many of them will be first-time homeowners, and they’re so excited.”

“It’s a wonderful thing you’re doing.”

“I think so, too, but it’s turned out to be far more stressful than we expected due to the rigid deadlines that come with federal funding. It’s giving me gray hair.”

Linc figured Joseph to be in his late thirties, and sure enough, he had a few grays in his otherwise dark hair. “It’ll be worth it in the end when those families are happily settled.”

“Keep telling me that.” Joseph hooked a left onto a dirt road that led to the campsite where a bunch of tents had been set up. “Y’all have your own tents, but you’ll share the bathrooms,” he said, pointing to a building to the far left.

In another large tent with open sides, a group of people bustled about.

“Food,” Joseph said when he saw Linc looking at the larger tent. “My wife, Keisha, and several of the other wives are in charge of feeding the volunteers. Keisha also runs the business side of things for my company, while taking care of our kids.”

“You all are busy.”

“You have no idea. Come meet my bride and the others.”

Lincoln got out of the truck and followed Joseph into the tent. “This is Lincoln Abbott from Pennsylvania by way of Yale. Linc, this is my wife, Keisha, our daughter, Jasmine, my business partner, Desmond, his wife, Charity, and their daughter, Shanda.”

Linc shook hands with the adults and bent to say hello to little Shanda, who was about three. “Nice to meet you all.”

“You, too.” Keisha had a warm, welcoming smile, golden-brown skin and bright brown eyes. Her braided hair was captured in a high ponytail to keep it out of her way while she worked. “You have no idea what you’ve signed on for around here.”

“That’s probably true, but something smells really good.”

“We’re going to work you hard, but one thing I can promise is that you’ll eat like a king,” Joseph said.

Linc’s mouth watered from the aromas coming from the pans. “Sounds like a fair deal to me.”

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. 

~ Calvin Coolidge

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